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a.k.a. Abu Talha
The Spanish government begins monitoring an al-Qaeda cell based in Madrid and led by Barakat Yarkas. The cell members call themselves the “Soldiers of Allah.” The New York Times will later report that a document listing telephone intercepts “makes clear that Spanish intelligence has been watching Mr. Yarkas and listening to him in his interactions with other suspected al-Qaeda operatives around Europe and Asia since at least 1997.” (Dillon 11/20/2001) In fact, Spain begins monitoring the cell in 1995, if not earlier. (Irujo 2005, pp. 23-40) The cell formed in the early 1990s, and the members distributed literature at a Madrid mosque about the activities of Islamist militants, including communiqués issued by Osama bin Laden. They indoctrinate some young Muslims who were interested, and recruit several to fight in Bosnia. Yarkas and others in the cell pose as middle-class businesspeople, but they also are observed committing a variety of crimes to raise money for al-Qaeda (see Late 1995 and After). Yarkas frequently travels, going to such countries as Turkey, Belgium, Sweden, Jordan, Denmark, Indonesia, and Malaysia. He makes more than 20 trips to Britain. By 1998, he is in contact with members of the same al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg that contains participants in the 9/11 plot such as Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi. But while Spanish intelligence shares their surveillance with the CIA, they do not inform German intelligence (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). In 1998, a Saudi millionaire named Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi moves to Spain and interacts with members of the cell, and soon the Spanish begin monitoring him too. It will later be alleged that Zouaydi is a key al-Qaeda financier. In July 2001, Spanish intelligence will hear members of the cell planning for a meeting in Spain that is attended by Atta and others, but apparently they will fail to monitor the meeting itself (see Before July 8, 2001 and July 8-19, 2001). In 2003, the Spanish government will charge a number of people they claim are members of the cell. Some will be convicted for having al-Qaeda ties, and some will not. Yarkas will get a 25-year sentence (see September 26, 2005). Most of the evidence against them will actually have been collected before 9/11. (Dillon 11/20/2001; Crewdson 10/19/2003)
A German newspaper will later note, “For much of the 1990s, the Spanish ran an impressive operation against a Madrid al-Qaeda cell, led by Barakat Yarkas, also known as Abu Dahdah. Wiretaps on Yarkas’s phone had revealed that he was in regular contact with [Mohammed Haydar] Zammar and [Mamoun] Darkazanli.” Spanish intelligence began monitoring Yarkas’ cell in 1997, if not earlier (see 1995 and After). It shares this information with the CIA, but not with German intelligence. The CIA also fails to share the information with Germany. A top German intelligence official will later complain, “We simply don’t understand why they didn’t give it to us.” (Laabs 8/13/2003) Spanish intelligence monitors dozens of telephone calls between Darkazanli in Hamburg and suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Spain starting at least by August 1998. On at least four occasions, Darkazanli is monitored as he travels to Spain and visits Yarkas and Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi (who will be arrested in Spain in 2002 on charges of being a key al-Qaeda financier (see April 23, 2002)). (Crewdson 10/19/2003) For instance, at the end of January 2000, Darkazanli is monitored by Spanish intelligence as he meets with Yarkas and some other some suspected al-Qaeda figures. Because the CIA and Spanish intelligence fail to share any of this surveillance information with German intelligence, the Germans are unable to see clear links between Hamburg al-Qaeda operatives and the rest of the al-Qaeda network in Europe. (Crewdson 11/17/2002) The Spanish will continue to monitor Yarkas and those he communicates with until 9/11, and in fact, in late August 2001 one of his associates will apparently make an oblique reference to the 9/11 attacks (see August 27, 2001).
Rita Katz, a researcher at The Investigative Project on Terrorism, discovers a book called The Arab Volunteers in Afghanistan. Published in Arabic in 1991, the book is very obscure. The 9/11 Commission will later say the book contains “a particularly useful insight into the evolution of al-Qaeda—written by an early bin Laden associate, Adel Batterjee, under a pseudonym.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 467) Katz discovers that Batterjee was close acquaintances with Osama bin Laden and that the book describes bin Laden’s career and that of many others during the 1980s war in Afghanistan in great detail. She will later call the book “practically the ‘Who’s Who of al-Qaeda’” because so many people described in it went on to become important al-Qaeda figures. The book discusses:
Adel Batterjee, the author of the book and a Saudi millionaire. He helped found the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). The US will declare him a terrorism financier in 2004.
Wael Hamza Julaidan, a Saudi multimillionaire. The US will designate him a terrorism financier in 2002 (see September 6, 2002).
Enaam Arnaout. He runs the US headquarters of BIF from 1993 until late 2001, when the US will shut BIF down.
Mohammed Loay Bayazid, a US citizen. He is a founding member of al-Qaeda and worked in the US for BIF until 1998.
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. He is tied to the Bojinka plot and numerous militant charity fronts.
Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi (the book mentions him by his alias, Abu Talha). Considered al-Qaeda’s main financier of cells in Europe, he will be arrested a few months after 9/11 (see April 23, 2002).
Wali Khan Amin Shah, one of the Bojinka plotters. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 468)
Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, an al-Qaeda leader involved in the 1998 African embassy bombings who will be arrested in Germany in 1998 (see September 16, 1998). (Devon and Mitre 10/28/2002)
Katz says that “many, many others” are mentioned. “Many others mentioned in the book decorate the FBI’s ‘most wanted’ lists.… There was nothing like [the] book to put everything in order, organize loose bits of information, and clear parts that were obscure to me (and to everyone else.)” Katz has connections in the US government, so she calls the White House and tries to convey the importance of the book’s information. She repeatedly sends them translations of important sections. However, she sees very little interest in the book. After 9/11, she will get a call from the Justice Department, finally expressing interest. Katz will later comment, “The government took interest in the book only after 9/11, two years after I’d first discovered it and offered it to them. No wonder that government agents told me I knew more about al-Qaeda than they did.”
Spanish authorities arrest Syrian-born Spanish businessman Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, alleging that he is a key al-Qaeda financier. (Simpson, Cohen, and Martinez 5/6/2002) An accountant, Zouaydi is considered to be the “big financier” behind the al-Qaeda network in Europe, according to French investigator Jean-Charles Brisard. From 1996 to 2001, Zouaydi lived in Saudi Arabia and funneled money into a series of companies set up to accept donations. (The source of the donations is unknown.) Around $1 million was then forwarded to al-Qaeda agents throughout Europe, especially to Germany. Mohamed Atta’s Hamburg apartment telephone number was saved in the cell phone memory of one of Zouaydi’s associates. (France-Presse 9/20/2002) Zouaydi also allegedly sent money to Mamoun Darkazanli, a Syrian-born businessman who has admitted knowing Atta and others in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. Before 9/11, Spanish intelligence monitored Darkazanli several times as he traveled to Spain and met with Zouaydi and others (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). (Simpson, Cohen, and Martinez 5/6/2002) One of Zouaydi’s employees in Spain visited the WTC in 1997. While there, he extensively videotaped the buildings. Perhaps only coincidentally, while in Saudi Arabia, Zouaydi “was an accountant for the al-Faisal branch of the Saudi royal family, including Prince Mohammed al-Faisal al-Saud and Prince Turki al-Faisal.” (France-Presse 9/20/2002) Al-Faisal al-Saud also has a large financial stake in a Sudanese bank allegedly co-founded by and closely linked to Osama bin Laden (see September 24, 2001 and After).
Spanish investigators and prosecutors attempting to jail people they believe are important al-Qaeda operatives seek US assistance, but the US fails to provide them with full co-operation. Spanish authorities started to build a case against a Spain-based al-Qaeda cell headed by Barakat Yarkas in the 1990s and some of the suspects were under surveillance as they allegedly assisted the 9/11 plot (see August 1998-September 11, 2001). The US has some information about them, but does not release what the Spanish need because the US apparently does not want to fight terrorism through law enforcement, but through more direct methods. A Spanish official says, “From the US point of view, everything is an intelligence affair, not a judicial matter… That is what is undermining the whole process.” In 2004, the Spanish official complains: “We could clearly prove the Spanish role in 9/11 if we had real cooperation. There are literally two or three elements missing to close the case, but as it is now, all of the suspects will go free.” One key dispute centers on US unwillingness to share evidence linking Spain-based al-Qaeda operative Amer el-Azizi to the 9/11 plot and Spanish officials spend six months persuading the US before getting a copy of a “specific element that provides a concrete link” between el-Azizi and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see (November 2001)). In addition, the US fails to provide information identifying Saudi Arabian investors in Spanish construction companies owned by a Syrian businessman, Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi, another suspected militant who is thought to have channeled money to extremists through his group of companies, as well as suspicious Islamic charities. (Johnson and Crawford 5/4/2004) This lack of co-operation hinders the prosecutions of the operatives and means they receive only relatively light sentences. For example, Yarkas is initially found guilty of both terrorism in Spain and assisting the 9/11 plot, but his 9/11 conviction is overturned on appeal (see September 26, 2005).
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